A Texas jury has found a white former police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black teenager last year guilty of murder.
Roy Oliver shot into a car full of teenagers as they were leaving a party in the Dallas suburb of Balch Springs in April 2017.
Fifteen-year-old Jordan Edwards, who was sitting in the passenger seat, was struck and killed.
“It’s been a hard year … I’m just really happy,” Edwards’s father, Odell, told reporters at the courthouse after the verdict on Tuesday.
At the time of the shooting, Oliver claimed the vehicle was trying to run over his partner, but several witness accounts and body-cam footage showed the car was moving away from the officer.
Oliver was fired from the Balch Springs police force in May 2017 after police admitted the video of the shooting contradicted Oliver’s initial statement.
Local reporters, who were present in the courtroom on Tuesday as the verdict was read, reported that there were hugs, claps and cheers from the family of Edwards.
|Odell Edwards, father of Jordan Edwards, gets a hug from Dallas County district attorney Faith Johnson after hearing a guilty of murder verdict [Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP] [Daylife]
Oliver faces between five and 99 years in prison for the murder. His sentencing hearing began immediately after the trial. The former police officer was acquitted of manslaughter and aggravated assault.
‘Not just about Jordan’
Daryl Washington, Edwards’s lawyer, said the verdict is not just about justice for the young teenager’s family but for the families of all unarmed black people killed by police.
“This case is not just about Jordan,” Washington told reporters. “It’s about Tamir Rice, it’s about Walter Scott, it’s about Alton Sterling, it’s about every unarmed African American who has been killed and who has not got justice.”
According to Washington Post Fatal Force database, more than 980 people were killed by police in 2017.
|Monica Tunstle-Garrett, left, of Mesquite, Texas, and Al Woolum, right of North Richland Hills, Texas, light candles as the arrive at a vigil for Jordan Edwards in Balch Springs, Texas, Thursday, May 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) [Daylife]
The Guardian identified more than 1,090 police killings the previous year.
Nearly a quarter of those killed by police in 2016 were African Americans, although the group accounted for roughly 12 percent of the total US population.
According to watchdog group The Sentencing Project, African American men are six times more likely to be arrested than white men.
These disparities, particularly the killing of African Americans by police, has prompted the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, a popular civil rights movement aimed at ending police violence and dismantling structural racism.
Online, many called Tuesday’s verdict a “small”, but “significant” step for justice for unarmed people killed by police.
According to Phil Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University, only 91 police officers in the US have been charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting since 2005. Less than 40 have been convicted of a crime.
“This is a big deal,” tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Twitter user, Ben Frank, wrote: “Finally, a cop was found guilty of murdering a black man. Hopefully this will be the new norm and [teach] these cops they just can’t murder us and get away with it.”
Angie Thomas, author of the book The Hate You Give, and others pointed out that the verdict came on the same day as the anniversary murder of Emmet Till, a 14-year-old African American who was kidnapped and brutally killed in 1955 in Mississippi. Although two white men confessed to the murder after they were acquitted by an all-white jury, experts say details around the murder remain unclear. The US Department of Justice recently announced it was reviving its investigation into the case, which became a focal point of the civil rights movement in the US.
“It’s not lost on me that Jordan Edwards received justice on the anniversary of Emmett Till’s murder,” Thomas tweeted. “Trying to process this.”